The Work of Completion

A red songbird perched atop the utmost branch of our tree and proclaimed his presence to the morning, his crest standing straight up as he sang. I sat in a wicker chair on our back porch, hearing the song and filling up my soul with the beauty of the day, washed clean from the storms of the night before.

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Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com

This morning I had felt so distant from God. Like I had forgotten how to commune with Him. I reached out to a small group of women that hold me accountable to spending time with Jesus each morning and asked them to pray for me. I didn’t really know what it was that I needed, just that I needed…Him. His presence. His nearness. I wanted to feel Him and I wanted the God of the universe to speak to me.

My friend, Rebecca, texted me back, assuring me that she was praying for me and she wrote these words,

“My friend, remember that God’s voice is not always heard, sometimes it is seen and sometimes it is felt. He’s always with you and has never left you as He promised in His Word.”

I thought of her words to me as I sat listening to the songbird. It almost sounded as if he sang, “Beware, beware!” Or was it, “Aware, aware!”?

I had so many questions still unanswered. Mainly, the one question. The question that always haunts me. The question of adoption. In a few weeks it will have been one year since we found out that we were not adopting Isaac. Our lives were so very different last year than they are now. We were prepping our home to receive a child. Gearing up emotionally, physically and spiritually for this. And now? A year later we have gone on with our lives. I am the very busy mother of older kids. I am preparing to teach a Classical seventh grade class next year and Jason and I have moved on from adoption. Definitely moved on from the diaper stage.

And yet, I haven’t really moved on.

I’m still there. I’m still holding on. That longing to enter into the miracle. I am holding onto adoption because, as crazy as it seems, I do not want to miss the pain and the blessing of sharing in the gospel of Christ.

It’s just that I don’t see how adoption fits into our life.

This morning, as I sat looking out over the lush pasture, I pulled out a bookmark from my Bible with declarations of my identity in Christ. I read them out loud and several of them jumped out at me, so much so that I knew I needed to slow down and meditate on them. The one that resonated the most was an old, familiar passage from the book of Philippians chapter 1.

God will carry on to completion the good work He began in me. Philippians 1:6

This was big. I grabbed my journal and started scribbling. And I wrote to the Father, “The completion of the good work in my life depends on YOU!”

How very quickly I lose sight, in my mad dash to work out my own salvation, that this very work is not my own. It is God’s work. He has begun it and He will finish it. Yes, of course, I partner with Him, but I don’t carry it on my own! It is from Him, through Him, to Him. It is all His!

And so, if the completion of the good work in my life depends on God, then…

  1. I can stop striving to make sure I don’t miss out on His best for me.
  2. I can rest in His promise.
  3. I can trust in His perfect timing.

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I don’t know if we will ever get to adopt. I don’t know what the future holds for our family. But I do know my Shepherd. He is good and He leads. We hear His voice and we follow. And He will bring the work of our lives, that He has started, to completion.

Like Newborn Calves

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Two weeks ago we purchased a Jersey cow and two newborn bull calves. They were the rejects of a large dairy farm because the cow was not giving enough milk in one of her quarters and the calves were, well male, so they were not wanted. We were taking quite a chance because the cow was not the calves’ mother and if she did not accept them, we were faced with the daunting task of bottle feeding two babies.

And what did we know about dairy farming!

But by the grace of God, the beautiful Jersey cow, who we named Annabelle, proved to not only bond with one calf, but to be a devoted mother to both of the calves. Their first day together on our property she was already licking them and letting them suckle and lowing nervously if either one of them were out of her sight. It was astounding to watch them interact as if they had both been hers always. It was cow adoption at its finest.

According to the suggestion of our neighbors (who have helped us out of countless farming binds already) we got into the habit of penning up the calves every evening. We do this in order to get Annabelle used to going into her milking stall without her babies so that whenever we do start milking her she will be used to the routine.

IMG_2202In the early morning, just as the blue dawn of winter turns orange in the east, we hear them in their stalls mooing desperately. Spartan and Star, the young bull calves, wild with hunger, have to be held back until we get Annabelle in her milking stanchion. As soon as her head is secured and she is eating her sweet feed, we let the calves go to her.

This morning I read 1 Peter 2:2-3 and the passage breathed into life as never before.

Like newborn babies crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

I remember my own babies and their desperation for life. The way they awoke in the middle of the night with pursed lips and clenched fists, crazy for the nourishment that only I could give them.

IMG_2157It is no different with Spartan and Star. As soon as we release them from their stall, they bound to their mother with all of the vigor that separation produces. They suckle loudly and greedily, white, creamy froth covering their mouths and dripping like whipped cream onto the hay beneath them. They ram their little heads forcefully up into her quarters so that she continues to let down milk and they gulp until they have had their fill. And Annabelle stands patiently and lovingly still.

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I remember, years ago, a missionary friend of mine praying earnestly, “Give me your Word, Oh Lord, lest I die!” I never forgot the desperation in her tone. And this from a woman who knew the Word, who had lived out the good news of Jesus for years. She still approached the Word of God with the same hunger and longing as a newborn baby.

I desire this for myself. I long for this for my children. That we may see the wonderful gift of the Word of God as our very sustenance. That we might say, along with our Jesus, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Luke 4:4.

That we might be like newborn calves.

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Back to Mexico

I remember being awaken in the middle of the night to a shout as my father slammed the light switch on and bright light flooded over me.

“She’s bit her tongue,” he was saying, “and I can’t get her to stop shaking.”

I plunged out of bed and raced to their room, totally unaware of what was going on, but knowing that whatever it was, it had my father, the strong ex Navy Seal that he was, desperate and seeking my help. My memory swirls at this point as I witnessed my mom groaning and shaking in bed, blood dripping down her cheek, while my father tried to pry her mouth open to free her tongue. As an eleven year-old I had no idea what a seizure was. My mother had never acted like this before and my father was beside himself.

I remember when the shaking finally stopped, when she finally woke up, but didn’t recognize us. Didn’t know who my dad was and was calling me Michelle, a name I knew belonged to her childhood friend. I remember my younger brother, Ryan, was there, but didn’t seem too concerned. I tried to talk to my mom, but she wasn’t making sense. I remember my dad picking my mom up, in her nightgown, and carrying her out the front door and into our “combi” (volkswagon bus) and he told me he was taking her to the doctor. He told me to stay there at home with my brother and that they would come back.

We were living in Texcoco, Mexico at the time. We didn’t have family around that we could call, there were no cell phones at that time that he could use to keep in touch with me. Just the promise that he would come back.

I crawled back into bed, curling up beside Ryan, as the dawn began to creep into our home. But my whole body was shaking from fear so noticeably that I was keeping my brother from sleeping. “Stop!” he complained. And I tried to force myself to stop shaking, but my teeth rattled together uncontrollably.

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We live and we grow and we change, but somehow, deep down, we are affected profoundly by the wounds we experienced as a child. This is something I was not aware of, though it may seem so obvious. I knew my mother’s seizures (she had one more after the first) had deeply impacted my life, but it wasn’t until this year that I was able to recognize just how they affected me.

Every week I meet with a small group of dear women. This summer we discussed the book, Captivating by John and Stasi Eldridge. We spent four or five weeks on just one chapter which focused on the wounds we experienced as little girls and the lies we believed because of those wounds and the vows we made on account of the lies. I remember sitting in bed one night with Jason, fighting the tears as I remembered my wound as a little girl in Mexico, witnessing my mother’s grand mal seizure. I knew it had impacted me, but the way it impacted me surprised me. I believed from the time of eleven years on, that I had to be strong for my mom. I grew up that day and in some ways, my role with my mother was reversed. I became the strong one and had to look out for her and take care of her. I hadn’t realized how much I just wanted to be the little girl again.

Jason spoke truth that brought on the tears.

“You don’t have to be strong.”

I don’t have to be strong. I don’t have to have it all together. I can be the shaking little girl, so scared out of her wits that her teeth are chattering. I can be weak like that and crawl into my Heavenly Father’s lap and just let Him hold me. I can be weak.
IMG_1724The next day, after this realization, I received a Newsletter from our dear missionary friends, Ben and Angela, in Puebla, Mexico. I remember reading through it and one sentence standing out to me. Angela was going to meet with some ladies from her church to talk about doing a women’s retreat for the purpose of “soul care”.  It was at that moment when God spoke to my heart and told me that I needed to go to Mexico to help with this retreat. I remember going outside and crying. We were in the process of putting our house on the market to sell. The timing was crazy and we had no money to put toward a trip like that! But, when God calls, He provides everything needed.

Jason was in support. I had a group of friends and family who were giving prayer support, and all the finances were taken care of by different people who felt strongly that God would have them give for me to go. But the greatest thing was that my daughter, Addie Rose, was coming with me. I felt all along that she needed to come. Passports, tickets, gifts for Ben and Angela’s family, all of this was provided. It was astounding just how clear God made it that we were supposed to go. So we went.

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I can write so much more about all that I learned and all that God did in and through me on this trip back to Mexico. But the biggest accomplishment was done in my own heart. I poured out my heart to Angela concerning the pain from my childhood and she was used mightily by the Lord to pray healing over me. God took me back to the land of my childhood, the land of my wound. He took me back with my daughter to reestablish me as His daughter. I left Mexico healed and free.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor… They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his spendor. Isaiah 61:1,2,3

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After all these years, my parents have come a long way and restoration continues to take place. As I process through my healing with my mom, she is encouraging me to be the daughter. I look forward to the coming years.

Does God Reward Obedience?

A lady from Bible Study this morning asked a question that has been rolling around in my mind all day.

“Does God reward obedience?”

I don’t know her well, and just caught the tail end of a story she was telling a group of women about something radical God had called her and her husband to do years ago. Something that required courage and that kind of crazy willingness to do that which only God could enable someone to do. They had obeyed with overwhelming joy. But now that she looked back at it, she remembered something that had happened very soon afterwards. She was given the gift of a pregnancy, something that had not been possible before. And after one child, came three more. But until this time, she hadn’t put it all together. Did God reward her and her husband for their obedience to Him? “Yes!” I had said, “I believe God rewards obedience.”  I shared with her something that had happened this last weekend. Jason had come home with twenty bags of mulch in order to mulch around all of our fruit trees. We asked the kids if they wanted to help out and, surprisingly, they did. All three of our kids helped Jason haul mulch around our yard, back and front, and spread it under our fruit trees and gardenia bushes. They did so with great excitement, not expecting anything in return. This impacted me so much that, later on, when I gave them their chore money, I gave them extra for a job well-done helping Daddy with the mulch. I rewarded them for their work. But later on this afternoon I had lunch in the garden. Gazing out at our freshly-mulched, miniature orchard, I began to think more deeply about my children’s work.

I don’t think their reward was the dollar bill that I gave them.

I remember Adeline struggling eagerly to push the wheel barrow, loaded down with mulch, through our gate into the backyard. She had tipped it and got it stuck on the siding of our house. Thaddaeus had rushed to help dislodge it, but it was wedged pretty good. Jason eased it out effortlessly and showed them how to load another bag of mulch onto the wheel barrow. He taught them to go to the farthest tree first and drop the load, and then to go to the next farthest. I remember going back inside and thinking to myself that, for sure, Jeremiah was going to let his brother and sister handle the dirty work this time. After all, we didn’t even offer to pay them anything for this. But, to my amazement, Jeremiah was zipping down the stairs. “They haven’t started without me, have they?” he asked as he rushed outside to help them. Later on, in the middle of my shower, Thaddaeus’s voice could be heard outside my door. I had to turn off the water in order to make out his words.

“Mommy, we’re done! Come see what we did!”

After several more interruptions from my youngest, my shower was finally over and I was , at long last, ready to see the work that they had done. Thaddaeus held out a completely black hand to me and I took it. And there they all were, beaming with pride as they showed me all of the trees encircled with ebony. All hands were black (though Jeremiah rinsed his as soon as the work was done) but their Daddy’s were blackest of all. IMG_1302 Does God reward obedience? Yes, I still believe He does. And I believe that He rewards with all kinds of things. With children and financial provision and safety and blessings. Sometimes. But other times it does not look like He is rewarding our obedience. Sometimes it looks like we suffer because of obedience. Sometimes it looks like we are a casualty of war. And sometimes it looks like the very opposite of a reward. Our family is in the middle of coming through a trial such as we have never endured before. And it came as a result of obedience. I have raged at God, reminding Him of all the good we have done for Him. But even in my raging, I was drawn to Him. I longed for Him. And in my darkest hour, I have found Him to be my greatest reward. My children were not motivated by money. They truly desired to work alongside their Daddy. It gave them great joy to work hard right beside him, taking his advise, learning from him. And showing off the beautiful work that they accomplished together at the end of the day. And it gave their Daddy great joy to be able to work with them, knowing that he was giving them their greatest reward. He was giving them himself.

After this the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”  Genesis 15:1

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Grace Abounds

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We had just returned from the best camping experience our family had ever had. And tent camping at that. With a baby even! Pedernales Falls in the hill country of Texas was a life-giving retreat for this tired mama. Pictures don’t capture the beauty, nor do they convey the sweet, rich, forest air and the sounds of the strange autumn insects. And the stars! We could actually see them!

Being there I could feel God’s grace with every sense of my being.

But when trouble comes I forget it completely. God’s grace becomes obscure and hard to remember. Upon our return from Pedernales, we were greeted grimly with a letter that left us breathless. A letter that reminded us of the past we had fought so hard to conquer and to forget. A letter that sneered at us with a sinister smile that chased away the hope and the grace.

Debt. It was a letter from a collection agency demanding money for one of the real estate properties that had been foreclosed on last year. And not a little bit of money either.

We reeled and scrambled to make sense of it all and to ascertain the validity of it and to seek out help. And in the end we discovered that when banks foreclose on a property and it is then resold, if the sale doesn’t completely cover the original mortgage, the banks reserve the right to pursue you personally for the difference. The letter we received was concerning only one of the properties and there were eight that were foreclosed on. Would the banks come after us for the difference of all eight of the houses? We had thought that with the banks reclaiming all of the properties there would be no more settlements. But we were gravely mistaken.

The dark cloud of discouragement descended. Now it mattered not how faithful we had been with our finances nor how much we had given to missionaries or to the poor or how many good deeds we had done or how much we had gone without in order to be debt-free, a concept so foreign in this country- Because of poor decisions made a very long time ago, we were in bondage to a great debt. And nothing good that we had done since that point so early on in our marriage seemed to matter.

I went for a run, as I usually do when I need to rant and rave at God. With my feet pounding the pavement I reminded God of all the good that we had done. I reminded Him of Jason’s faithfulness and his loyalty and his righteousness. How this just wasn’t fair. Wasn’t how we should be treated. And in my despondency I cried out, “Show me a sign of your goodness! Anything, but I need to see it right now!” And I was desperate.

Immediately I looked up and down the way on the other side of the street was my daughter Adeline.

My breath caught and my heart started to beat even quicker. I shook my head and my mouth curved slowly up as I wondered at the timing of it all. I waved and she saw me and started running toward me. I ran to her as well.

“Mommy,” she said, before I could say a word, “Thaddaeus just asked Jesus to be his Savior!”

Tears blurred as she told me how they were having a conversation that led into  her sharing the good news of the gospel with her little brother and that he responded to it by asking Jesus to save him from his sin.

“Addie,” I said, incredulous, “I just asked God (ordered was more like it) to show me a sign of His goodness and He gives me this! My son coming to Jesus and my daughter leading him!”

That God would answer my prayer with something so blessedly precious is more than I deserve. Oh His grace!

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And then tonight. After another week of forgetting about God’s grace and being sucked back into the agony of worry over debt and my health and the fatigue of life, after losing sight of His abundant grace, He blesses me again. And I have the privilege of leading my firstborn son, Jeremiah to the cross. And in his own way and in his own words, the words of a child, he prays to the God of the universe and invites His Son into his life to free him from the bondage of sin.

And as I describe it to him, things become clearer for me. “It doesn’t matter how good you’ve been or what good things you’ve done. You cannot earn your way to God. All you do is trust that Jesus’ death on the cross is enough to bring you to God. His blood alone covers all your sin.”

It’s like that real estate debt. Nothing good that we have done is enough to cancel out the magnitude of our sin before a holy God. We are in desperate need of a miracle.

But look! Grace abounds! “God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners!” Romans 5:8

Even real estate debt pales in comparison to the great future we have in Christ. Romans 5:10 goes on to say, “And since, when we were His enemies, we were brought back to God by the death of His Son, what blessings He must have for us now that we are His friends, and He is living within us!”

He is working all of this for our good. We must believe that. We must fight to recover our joy even in the midst of financial insecurity. He is so good to us and has chosen to bless us even in our doubt.

May we press on and not lose sight of the goodness of the Lord.

IMG_0774Grace abounds!

 

The Planting

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It was St. Patrick’s Day when the kids planted their seeds in the garden.

The boys were in the garden digging and digging and picking up worms and mounding up the soil, getting it ready for the planting. It is amazing to me how much effort is taken to actually get to the point where the soil is ready to be filled in with seed.

We now have three strips of garden beds in our backyard, where last year we only had two. Last summer, Jason covered over the grass of the soon-to-be row with newspaper and dried leaves and grass to prep the ground to be a new garden bed. The newspaper looked odd and out of place beside the other two garden beds which were vibrant with growth. It looked ugly and the newspaper would blow off around our yard, but my husband, the gardener, would gather the newspaper and spray them down with water and keep adding to the desolate garden bed. The idea was that in the decomposing of the paper and the leaves and grass, the ground underneath would be made soft and we might  even not have to rent a tiller to break up the ground.

That is exactly what happened. Now in March, after six months of continuing to prep the ground, the boys started digging in the garden bed and discovered rich, dark earth underneath the newspaper. They showed Jason the earth they had discovered under there and he decided that the tiller was not needed.

IMG_9762So they dug it all up and covered the watering hose and mounded it up and were then ready to plant the seeds. Finally.

I went looking for Addie because each of the kids had a plot of the new strip with seeds they had each chosen to go in the ground. It was time to plant and I wondered why my daughter was not out there in all of the action.

I found her in her room copying Bible verses.

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“What are you doing sweetie?” I had asked her.

“Oh, I’m copying verses to go hand out around our neighborhood.” She had about twenty pages from a little notebook filled with verses.

My heart filled with great joy. That very morning I had gone out walking, praying that God would give our family boldness in sharing the good news of Jesus with those who do not know him.

“I’ll go with you!” I volunteered. I would definitely support this effort to take the Word of God around to our neighbors.

I looked at my little missionary and said, “But first, there is a strip of ground that is all ready for you to plant some seeds.”

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After the planting and after lunch, Jason laid his hands on Addie and I and commissioned us as we went out with seed of our own to sow around the neighborhood.

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Maybe, just maybe some of that seed will have fallen on fertile ground.